From Durlabhji (editor) Power in Focus (Wyndham Press, 2004).

Power and the Emerging Dynamic SuperGlobe

Crockett Grabbe

University of Iowa

Iowa City, IA 52242

An important entity that is growing around the planet Earth is one that I have labelled the emerging SuperGlobe. This is the huge sphere of space with links to many nations that encompasses the Earth itself and its much more voluminous complex structure of satellites. The SuperGlobe will continue to increase in both intensity and importance as the 21st century unfolds, and understanding it can be essential for understanding much of the dynamics of humanity itself. Its components receive the power they need from the primary source for the Solar System as a whole, and the entity itself will be the source of some the major forms of social power in the decades ahead.

1. Satellites and the Concept of the SuperGlobe

Satellites have been launched and placed in orbit around the planet for over 40 years. Their purposes were primarily for space research and human exploration of space in the early days, although uses for military communication, spying, treaty verification, and early-warning were also quickly developed because of the cold war. All of the satellites at that time were launched by government agencies of major nations like the United States and Russia.

In the latter part of the 1980's commercial interests began launching satellites on their own, independent of government launches. Potential commercial uses of satellites were growing and led large companies with potential benefits from such satellites to strike out and take unknown risks to research and explore what they could develop in that arena. The rapid development in computers augmented both control and practical uses of satellites for communication and resource developments. Satellites used for communication, weather observation, interplanetary exploration, geophysical resource monitoring, geodetic global positioning, solar observation, and space telescope (the Hubble) blossomed.

Now we are in the midst of another computer and communication revolution and telecommunication satellites are blossoming. Wired systems throughout the world are going wireless. Wireless cellular mobile phones are being replaced by global PCS phones. Clusters of satellites (e.g. the 48-satellite Globestar cluster, and the 66-satellite Iridium cluster) have recently been developed for PCS uses. Within 2 years wireless internet connections to all parts of the globe will become possible with clusters like the 288-satellite Teledesic.

The commercial developments of global satellite systems is a significant component of this growth. Iridium and Globestar were developed in the latter 1990's for global PCS coverage. Iridium was initially intended to be a cluster of 77 low-Earth-orbit satellites, hence was named after the element in the periodic table with 77 electrons. However, after a modification to 66 satellites and a deployment of all 66, the company went bankrupt in late 1999.

In the summer of 1999 Hurricane Floyd rampaged in the South Atlantic, with much of the Bahamas being caught in its powerful destructive path. Iridium had launched most of its satellites, and had a post-Hurricane sale on PCS phones. Many of the residents in the Bahamas had been trapped by the hurricane's destructive power because of lack of communication. Iridium advertised PCS phones as a way of avoiding this in the future -- effectively to avoid the hurricane's natural destructive power by having access to the power of communication. Many rushed out and bought phones. But Iridium went bankrupt without a functional phone service there, and these residents felt burned. However, Blue-Sky Communications soon took over the 66 Iridium satellite system, and now provides wordwide PCS service with it.

GlobalStar was developed as a cluster of 48 low-Earth-orbit satellites (a constellation of 8 sectors with 6 satellites in each sector). The system consists of a gateway communication with satellites, so messaging is routed from one user to his local gateway, up to a satellite close to the gateway, then through the cluster to another satellite, down to the other user's local gateway, and to the other user (who may be across the world from the first user). GlobalStar is actively developing these communication links around the world with the system, thereby creating social power worldwide. The signals are transmitted in the microwave at various frequencies in the 5-7 gigaHertz range licensed by the Federal Communication Commission.

Other satellite systems to support global wireless internet access as well as global communication that are being developed are WildBlue Communications (re-organiized out of iSky and before that KaStar), Immarsat and Teledesic. In addition to to many low-Earth orbiting satellites (a few hundred miles out into space) WildBlue has 4 "master" satellites out at a geosynchronous orbit [1] of 21,000 miles. At these orbits the satellite rotates at precisely the same rate Earth rotates, and are seen as stationary objects by people on the ground of the Earth. WildBlue advertises high-speed (3 Megabits per second) broadband internet access at home or office by satellite modems. Immarsat similarly has 4 primary satellites in geosynchronous orbit. Teledesic, on the other hand, is designed to have 288 or more satellites in low-Earth orbit and. Big-money backers like Bill Gates are behind Teledesic, so is not likely to go bankrupt as the Iridium system did. Both WildBlue and Teledesic use the Ka microwave band, which passes signals at about 28 gigaHertz (a frequency 28,000 times higher than the central radio-frequency on the AM band at 1 megaHertz).

There are several thousand satellites in orbit around Earth, and soon there will be more. Currently there over 25,000 objects in orbit around the Earth, and much of it is "space junk" that has developed from past spacecraft. We are rapidly populating Earth's neighborhood with satellites, and have created what I call a SuperGlobe structure running from Earth's surface out to the geosynchronous orbit of 21,000 miles. The volume of this SuperGlobe is almost 30 times as large as the volume of Earth itself, and exhibits the vast expansian of human interaction into the third dimension (i.e. radially from the Earth). This SuperGlobe is our sphere of existence, and our dependence on this sphere will continually increase its importance in the future as humanity progresses.

A project to which the United States is devoting a relatively expensive portion of its resources is that of the space station. This will form a piece of the SuperGlobe, but only one small piece. The reason that the space station is such an expensive venture is that is designed for humans residing in space and being shuttled to and from it. Its main source of power will be the same as all elements in the SuperGlobe -- namely, the Sun. However, most of the interaction of people living on the surface of the Earth will be with the non-human parts of the SuperGlobe, parts which are inexpensive in general and for the most part commercially viable for support. The greatest growth in contributions to the SuperGlobe will likely come from commercial interests as space resources become increasingly attractive financially with time.

2. The 3 Forms of Power in the SuperGlobe

What do we get our power? What is the ultimate power source for virtually everything we interact with? The power source for virtually everything in the Solar System in fact derives from fusion at the Sun. The combining of hydrogen nuclei to produce helium, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen nuclei deep with the Sun provides the primary source for power in the Solar System, and virtually all life on Earth could not survive without it. As an example, while this society has a great dependence on the automobile, which is powered by gasoline and oil obtained inside the surface of the Earth, that oil and gas derives from ancient life such as that of the dinosaurs. But all the power of heat and light that let the dinosaurs and ancient life live came from the Sun.

The world has been engaged in scientific research for years to develop the process of controlled fusion in plasmas, similar to the process which generates the energy of the Sun, as an energy source for future needs on the planet. While this has been slow in coming, and considerable work is needed to bring controlled fusion into reality as a major energy source, in another form research into both the plasmas in space and in the laboratory have increased our ability to acquire power from the Sun for many uses. The fusion of the Sun has become the major power source for the evolving, dynamic SuperGlobe that humanity is creating.

How does fusion of the Sun power the SuperGlobe. Its many components capture the solar power that arrives at the Earth from the Sun in terms of infrared radiation (heat), light radiation, X-rays, gamma rays, and the streaming energetic particles in the solar wind. Most of the elements in the SuperGlobe are powered directly by solar power. Thus the SuperGlobe captures the solar power produced by fusion and converts it into the electrical and other forms used by the satellite elements within it. Furthermore the solar wind and radiation can produce a rapidly changing environment of space conditions for the SuperGlobe, and these conditions can have a profound effect on the status and well-being of elements of the SuperGlobe. The Sun not only provides dynamical power for the SuperGlobe, but it also produces destructive power that must be controlled.

This total power used by these all of the elements of the SuperGlobe is quite small compared to that used on the surface of the Earth, yet the SuperGlobe is becoming so intertwined with world affairs, that there is a 3rd form of power that is rapidly growing, and that will continue to grow in the 21st century. That is the social power that is being developed by the presence of the SuperGlobe. The developing SuperGlobe provides powerful social forces of to the population on Earth, and will continue rising rapidly in importance and concentration for the first half of the 21st century. Humanity is constantly increasing its dependence on this SuperGlobe, and its social power will grow for years to come. In effect, the SuperGlobe represents that a major growth of that power into the third dimension. Although humanity as a whole is still confined to the quasi-2-dimensional state on the Earth's surface, its social power can be seen as growing rapidly from the expansion of not only its influence, but also its dependence, into the 3rd dimension.

3. Space Weather and Power in the SuperGlobe

All of these satellites on which we are continually increasing our dependence are out of atmosphere, so they are independent of local weather. However, they are vulnerable to what has become known as "space weather". A new science has arisen to develop means of making accurate forecasts on the space conditions in the Earth's neighborhood from observation and measurements of conditions that arise at the Sun. If accurate forecasts can be made, sensitive instruments on these satellites can be shut down to avoid damage and destruction. X-rays, gamma rays and other energetic particles from the Sun can be very damaging to unprotected satellite instruments.

Everything coming from the Sun goes in all direction, including the direction toward the Earth. This includes the solar wind of the energetic plasma from the Sun, as well as X-rays, gamma-rays, microwaves, and radio waves. These components can be much more pronouced and intense than usual when solar storms occur. Understanding long-term variations in space weather generated by these storms requires knowing the 22-year solar cycle. These solar storms occur more frequently when there is magnetic tension with the Sun, but let up when the Sun reverses its magnetic field direction, as it does so about every 11 years. After about 22 year the solar magnetic tension has gone through one complete cycle.

The largest solar storm to date was observed in 1972 from SkyLab. A huge prominence [2] was observed arching above the Sun's surface. I presented this classic photo in a talk in Atlanta in 1998. A few days later Al Roker was on the Larry King show, and mentioned solar storms. Larry King could not believe it! "The Sun has storms?" he asked incredulously twice. Then Al replied, "Yes, magnificant storms. some up to 10 miles high." In fact, the storm photographed on SkyLab was 100,000 miles high!

The destructive power of space weather, not only to instruments in space, but also even to instruments protected by the Earth's atmosphere was demonstrated on March 13 of 1989 [3]. Destructive force was released on Earth from a large solar magnetic disturbance, creating large-scale power outages over much of the Eastern part of the United States and Canada. Tripping occurred in electrical power stations all across the United States and Canada, and equipment was damaged over parts of the East Coast. A large swath of northeast Canada was hit with major blackouts that lasted for hours. All of this destruction came from events 93 million miles away that overwhelmed the atmospheric protection on the Earth.

A case for the importance of space weather was made in January, 1997, when a solar flare occurred in proximity to the launch of the AT&T Telestar-401 Satellite, leading to its total failure [4]. Satellites costs can easily run more than $100 million, so that failure was quite a large monetary loss. Being able forecast that danger would have led to abortion of the launching and protection of the satellite. The basic goal of space weather forecasting is to predict conditions on Earth that happen several hours after phenomena like flares, prominences and even sunspots develop on the Sun, so that protective measures can be taken to avoid the destruction of sensitive instruments, as well as the interference with intended functions (e.g. worldwide communication), on those satellites. Survival of the SuperGlobe depends upon the development of accurate space weather predictions to help in that protection.

In July of 2000 a storm from the Sun dealt a blow to the Japenese Advanced Satellite for Cosmology and Astrophysics (ASCA).[5] ASCA had 2 X-ray telescopes on board, and was the mainstay of the Japanese X-ray astronomy program after the ASTRO-E that was launched in February of 2001 was lost. ASCA began spinning out of control, and was remotely switched into a safe mode in which the experiments were on hold for some time after that events, while efforts were made to restore the satellite to orbital stability. However, it finally re-entered the atmosphere and was lost on March 2 of 2001. It had been launched on February 20 of 1993, surviving 8 years in space.

The importance of developments on the Sun for both vulnerable satellites and power stations on the Earth provides the motivation for space weather. This field's significance was demonstrated when AT&T lost Telstar-401 and when the Japanese lost ASCA. Because of bad timing with the arrival of a solar storms, both of these expensive satellites ended up failing.

Developing means of predicting conditions around the Earth from advanced knowledge of changing conditions on the Sun is a major goal of space weather research. Humanity is generating an ever-increasing dependence on the SuperGlobe, and developing the means of controlling these destructive vulnerabilities is imperative for providing the power for humanity to control its well-being. Mastering the control of that destructive power will be perhaps as significant an advance as humanity's mastery of the control of electricty as a major power source, or as its emerging control of fusion power for a power source for this century.

4. A Historical Note in the SuperGlobe Development

In the 1970's a decision was made at NASA to restrict all the development of satellites in the United States to the space shuttle. Missions that were being designed for launching from their own rockets suddenly had to have their plans scrapped and redone because of the switch to launching them from not from rockets, but from the space shuttle while it was orbit. All of our dynamic development of satellites was heralded as being tightly controlled through the space shuttle flights. But then a serious colossal error occurred that stunned the world as it was quickly broadcast around the globe.

The serious colossal error involved personnel and contractors working with NASA, and occurred on January 28 of 1986 with the launch of Space Shuttle Challenger in a flight whose primary purpose was delivering a communication satellite into orbit (a mission that could have been done much less expensively using unmanned launches).[6] 73 seconds after the launch the shuttle exploded with 7 astronauts aboard. The astronauts were killed, not by the explosion itself, but by the impact of the shuttle hitting the ocean 10 miles down from the site of the explosion. The shuttle was launched despite the repeated strong disagreement of engineers at Morton-Thiokol, the maker of the solid-rocket booster for the shuttle. The explosion occurred when the seal of an O-ring in that booster failed because the shuttle was launched at much lower temperatures than those at which the ring had been tested. This was despite particularly Engineer Roger Boisjoly's very strong objections, who went to great lengths to inform NASA officials that the O-ring was unsafe at these low temperatures.[7] The momentous push within NASA to go ahead with the mission won, and the shuttle and its 7 astronauts were tragically lost.

I would like to dedicate this article in memory of those astronauts who several years ago met their untimely deaths. It seems so fitting to remember them in these early years of the new century. Because of the colossal error resulting in this momentous tragedy, no space mission could be launched for the next 3 years, and NASA ended its quite-flawed policy of launching all new space-missions from the space shuttle. This flawed policy had resulted in delaying missions like the Galileo mission to Jupiter by almost a decade, and was primarily responsible for the failure of its large antenna for transmission of data back to Earth. Much progress has been made in clearing up these problems, readying NASA for much greater developments in space for the 21st century and contributing significantly to the development of the SuperGlobe.

Although it is small consolation for their loss, the Challenger astronauts helped open up the power of space development for the achievement of much greater goals, including those important for the SuperGlobe. They were bold pioneers worthy of the highest in praise for their venture.

5. Dynamic Social Power in the SuperGlobe.

The global interactions in the SuperGlobe have enhanced our day-to-day affairs, without widespread knowledge or appreciation of these facts. Newscasts are broadcase live on television from the far reaches of the globe, e.g. from Pakistan and Afghanistan. All of these live broadcasts have an obvious time delay of typically 3 seconds. When the United States news anchor asks a question to a reporter on the other side of the world, there is a noticeable several second delay before the response. This delay represents the time it takes for the signal to be switched up from the camera thru a local station up to a satellite, transmitted to another satellite across the globe and downloaded on the other side. Well-coordinated satellite systems are essential to this process, and constitute a small part of the SuperGlobe.

With the SuperGlobe there is virtually on-the-spot world-wide coverage of the news, and excellent virtually-instantaneous coverage of weather developments. There is ready global maritime positioning with the opening up of public access to the Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) and communication. The SuperGlobe is vital for the conduct of global business. Multinational companies often find global communication essential for ready-contact with field operations across the world. With the emergence of the SuperGlobe, the transaction costs for global operations has been considerably reduced. On-the-spot data analysis and transmission across the globe can make the difference on whether a deal is made or a contract necessity is processed. The organizational structure of global business is becoming thoroughly wrapped up in the SuperGlobe.

While these process have enhanced the multinationals, they have had a greater effect in opening up the global market to many smaller firms. With global wireless internet the SuperGlobe will make E-commerce readily accessible in any place worldwide. Any customer with his/her own computer can virtually instanteously compare the price available at any local market with the price for the same product at several different locations on the web. The market attractiveness of global wireless internet is driving the growth of corporate entities like Blue-Sky, WildBlue, Immarsat, GlobalStar, and Teledesic to provide E-commerce worldwide in various forms. The power of business competition has been enhanced by the SuperGlobe.

The SuperGlobe has a strong military component to its uses, as the military has seen the space neighborhood around Earth as an important resource for enhancing their strategic power. The military has always had an important role in space development, and has long used satellites for global monitoring, spying, treaty verification and worldwide communication. Currently there 2 important issues which are seen as important areas for concentrating military power that will affect the SuperGlobe: strategic defense and terrorism.

Developing a strategic defense against missile attacks has long been a military effort, which was organized into a basic program with the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in 1983. Many proposals have been made for basing this defense in space. I made a detailed examination of the prospects, problems, and dangers of strategic defense when the Untied States and the former Soviet Union had many nuclear missiles aimed at each other.[8] Although that threat has been considerably lessened, there is a strong push to develop the capability for a defense in space against a missile attack.

The SuperGlobe is necessary for the military operations being carried out in Afghanistan as a result of the despicable terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The SuperGlobe has also aided the terroriststs, with a worldwide network of cells across the globe created. Our military interests have been globally expanded as a result, with the United States military now heavily into Afghanistan and Pakistan, with Iraq a possibility in the near future. Monitoring by satellite the PCS phone use for global coordination by terrorists can be an important tool for locating them in such operations.

In the future we can expect internal government processes to benefit more and more from these developments. Government processes in general have a reputation for being slow and tied up with bureaucracy and paperwork, but the SuperGlobe could help change much of that. As an example, the Federal Court system in the United States (with some reorganization) could allow for future trials using simultaneous connections with the judge, members of the jury, plaintiff, and defendant, all in separate locations in the country. With the long-distance connections provided by the SuperGlobe, courtrooms need no longer limited to one locale. The use of such new ideas could significantly increase the channels for legal processes and substantially decrease the long waiting time that is normally needed before trials can be held. This could provide a brand-new meaning for the term "the reach of the law" -- one in addition to the more traditional meaning of that term which also result from intercepting global coordination of illegal activities by government tracking through satellites of their PCS phone communication.

The potential changes in our social and business institutions made possible by the presence and future evolution of the SuperGlobe is limited only by the our imaginations. As this century progresses the dynamics that it provides will lead to increasingly greater progress in many areas, and will slowly transform society into one whose dependence on the SuperGlobe almost rivals that of dependence on the automobile.

6. Future Evolution of the SuperGlobe

At dawn of this 21st century and 3rd millenium wireless communication, everywhere from PCS telephones to worldwide internet, is rapidly developing all around the globe. Developing these communication links is a vital part of our developing SuperGlobe. As a result of this growth the SuperGlobe is getting crowded with satellites in low-Earth orbit (typically out to 1000 miles from the Earth's surface), but many satellites exist in higher orbits, out to distances for a geosynchronous orbits about 21,000 miles out [1]. A very popular orbit in this realm which will rapidly increase in satellite population in the future is the geostationary (equatorial geosynchronous) orbit, in which satellites are always over the same station on Earth, and seen at the same point in the sky from Earth the surface of the Earth.

Weather forecasting is going solar, resulting from the need for protecting our space resources in the SuperGlobe. Those resources include not only satellites in orbit around the Earth, but satellites in the Solar- Terrestrial system in orbit about the Sun. The number of satellites launched in orbit around the Sun will also increase substantially in the future. The are about 4 several ideal places ("Lagrange points") for putting satellites so that both the Earth's and the Sun's gravitational fields are acting on them in a counteracting way to create stability in their location. One such location is directly between the Earth and the Sun. If a spacecraft is placed out 167,000 miles from the Earth in the direction of the Sun, the strength of the Earth's and Sun's gravitational field balance with each other. The spacecraft can just sit there and orbit around the Sun right with the Earth. It requires basically no energy to stay in that solar orbit, since the orbital motion of the spacecraft is being supplied by the Earth! Locations such as these will likely fill up with spacecraft in the future.

In years to come the SuperGlobe will grow, particularly in important, as humanity develops greater use of elements of it and dependence on what it provides. However, it will also grow in size, albeit at a considerably slower pace than it grows in importance. That growth in importance will fuel the growth of solar weather forecasting as a science.

Humans are actively interacting with their solar neighborhood, and this activity will increase dramatically in the next few years. In fact, our vital dependence on both the SuperGlobe and the Sun suggests that within the next century the SuperGlobe will grow out to eventually include our much of our solar neighborhood. By the next century, our SuperGlobe could have conceivably grown to envelope the Solar-Terrestrial neighborhood and perhaps other parts of our Solar System as well. There is good reason to believe that it may not stop there, because of other developments in our exploration of space.

In addition to the thousands of spacecraft orbiting the Earth and the Sun, missions have been sent out to explore the rest of the Solar System. We have gone out over 8 billion miles with the 4 spacecraft that will one day enter into interstellar space: Pioneer 10, Pioner 11, Voyage 1, and Voyager 2. We still have a communication link with 3 of these spacecraft (all except Pioneer 11) although transmissions from these spacecraft to Earth takes almost 12 hours. However, these spacecraft have never left the Solar System, in spite of being far out in the Solar System and still searching for the edge. These facts are in spite of major news headlines claiming we did so almost 20 years ago!

A major error by the press in 1983? That was the year the press suddenly focused on Pioneer 10 proclaiming it to be the 1st spacecraft to leave the Solar System. Pioneer 10 was at the time about to cross the orbit of the outer planet (Neptune at that time), and we suddenly had a news media event with many reporting on the auspicious occasion the 1st spacecraft to leave the Solar System. However, I have possibly shocking news to many people both who reported on that event years ago and who listened or read those news stories: no spacecraft has yet left the Solar System![9]

One of these days one of the 3 spacecraft with communication links at the edge of the Solar System will cross the termination shock -- the last vestibule of our Solar System -- marking the first time a spacecraft has left the Solar System and entered interstellar space. That event will be truly newsworthy, although many people erroneously believe that we already did that 20 years ago.

The spacecraft flying out to find the edge of the Solar System are not in orbit about the Sun, as their speed is well above that needed to escape the Solar System. They are in orbit about the galaxy. Thus they will be back, but not for over 200 million years. The outer reaches of our exploration of space is going galactic. It is conceivable as develop our reaches into space beyond the Solar System, it will be feasible to develop communication links over instellar distances. Thus in centuries to come, our SuperGlobe may expand into interstellar distances and go galactic as well.

For now our SuperGlobe is just a tiny piece of our Solar-Terrestrial neighborhood. That neighborhood is just a small corner of our Solar System, and yet our Solar System is just one of billions of stellar systems in our galaxy. And our galaxy is just one of billions of galaxies in the Universe. This SuperGlobe is the growing home for humanity. It is our oasis in space, and another oasis like it may not be found elsewhere in space for possibly centuries. Now that we are in the 21st century and the 3rd millenium let us make a new dedication to use major scientific advances in protection and security, as well as global developments promoting international peace and harmony, to keep it that way.


[1] In a geosynchronous orbit the satellites rotates at the same velocity as the Earth does. If that orbit is equatorial, then the satellite is called geostationary, since from the Earth's surface the satellite appears in a constant stationary position overhead.

[2] A solar prominence is a large gas-cloud high above the solar surface that appears as bright flame-like objects in arch-like forms.

[3] John Douglas, "A Storm from the Sun," EPRI Journal 14, 14 (July/Aug., 1989).

[4] "Solar Storm Eyed as Satellite Killer," Aviation Week & Space Technology 146, 61 (Jan. 27, 1997); "Telstar Woes," Spaceflight 39, 159 (May, 1997).

[5] "Solar Storm Knocks Out Japanese Satellite," Science 289, 709 (Aug. 4, 2000).

[6] James A. Van Allen, "Myths and Realities of Space Flight," Science 232, 1075 (May 30, 1986).

[7] "Roger Boisjoly on the Challenger Disaster" on the World-Wide Web at .

[8] Crockett Grabbe, Space Weapons (Iowa State University Press, Ames, IA, 1991).

[9] Press stories claiming Pioneer-10 was leaving the Solar System in 1983 were followed by other erroneous stories of spacecraft leaving the Solar System. For example, on Feb. 23, 1990, NASA News Release 90-29 had the headlines "Pioneer 11 Passes Neptune's Orbit, Leaving Solar System", and went on to state that it was the 4th spacecraft to leave the Solar System.